Psalm 148:7–14; Zechariah 13:7–14:21; Malachi 1; Revelation 21:9–22:7

Originally published 12/29/2017. Revised and updated 12/28/2019.

Psalm 148:7–14: The conclusion of this psalm is a masterful catalog of living creatures as well as what we think of as inanimate objects. Our poet begins in the deepest parts of the ocean and ascends to humankind from high rank to low—all of whom praise God—in one of the longest sentences in the Psalms:
Praise the Lord from the earth,
sea monsters and all you deeps.
Fire and hail, snow and smoke
stormwind that performs His command,
The mountains and all the hills,
fruit trees and all the cedars,
wild beasts and all the cattle,
crawling things and winged birds,
kings of earth and all the nations,
princes and all leaders of earth,
young men and also maidens,
elders together with lads. (7-12)

We self-centered humans tend to think that we alone are God’s creation and that all nature  is more or less a byproduct that exists solely to serve our needs. But here it’s clear that all of God’s creation stands on an equal footing before him. The strong implication to me is that while we may be God’s highest creation, made in his image (imago deo), we must reverently stand in respect for the entire natural world. Reflecting on the magnificence of all creation is what leads naturally to worship as we—together with all of nature—praise him. Which is exactly what our psalmist goes on to say:
Let them praise the Lord’s name,
for His name alone is exalted.
His grandeur is over earth and the heavens.” (13)

The psalm concludes with a reminder that Israel is God’s chosen people and they would do well to follow and to praise God:
And may He raise up a horn for His people,
raise of all His faithful,
of the Israelites, the people near Him.
Hallelujah! (14)

When I am out in nature doing photography, I can admire the grandeur of what God has created from the tiniest flower to the cliffs of Zion. It is then this that psalm reminds me that we humans are but one element of God’s glorious creation.

Zechariah 13:7–14:21: As this book continues its oscillation between God’s promises and the consequences of God’s anger,  we encounter an oracle that brims with anger at the metaphorical shepherd, who is doubtless an unfaithful king—of which Judah had many.  At some point two-thirds of Judah will perish and the reminder will be put to a severe test to see who among them remains faithful:
And I will put this third into the fire,
    refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, “They are my people”;
    and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” (13:9)

Happily, they appear to pass the test.

The final chapter of this mysterious book is a John-like vision of the end times. I’m pretty sure John was familiar with this passage since there are parallels of battle and the creation of a new Jerusalem. First, Jerusalem is destroyed with God’s permission. But, “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.” (14:3) Something similar John’s new Jerusalem is reestablished under God’s direct rule: “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem…it shall continue in summer as in winter. And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” (14:8, 9)

We even have a hint of what John turns into a heavenly city that descends to earth: “But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses.” (14:10) Moreover, it will become an eternal city: “it shall be inhabited, for never again shall it be doomed to destruction; Jerusalem shall abide in security.” (11)

Zechariah then foretells more bad events, which I will skip over. Eventually, all the nations will come to worship God. But I have to admit to the feeling that Zechariah’s scroll got messed up somewhere along the way and try as they might, his editors never really straightened things out. The book ends rather confusingly and abruptly with “And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”(14:21), which certainly brings Jesus’ cleansing of the temple to mind. Or not…

Malachi 1: Our prophet opens by making it clear that the descendants of Esau, who I take to be the Edomites, are not as well-loved as the descendants of Jacob, i.e. Israel. In fact, they’re pretty much cursed by God: “If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says: They may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.” (4) Wow. No hope there. Malachi drops the subject and moves on to other concerns…

Like other prophets before him, Malachi chastises the corrupt priesthood: “You say, “How have we despised your name?” By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted it?” By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised.” (6, 7)

Like all the other prophets, Malachi writes as the voice of God. And his take makes God something of a complainer: “Oh, that someone among you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hands.” (10)

God points out that “my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering” (11) so the obvious conclusion is that Israel should offer God only the best. But instead, he accuses them, ” you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it  may be despised. ” (12)

Malachi/God points out that the priests are complaining about having to make sacrifices: “What a weariness this is,” you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts.” (13a) and then in disobedience to the Law, they cheat by offering blemished and inferior animals for sacrifice, keeping the good stuff for themselves. He reminds them, “for I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.” (14) The chapter ends with the feeling that bad things are about to happen.

Revelation 21:9–22:7: Never one to leave well enough alone, John spends the remainder of chapter 21 describing the new Jerusalem. His description is reminiscent of the temple measurements in the concluding chapters of Ezekiel. Like everything else in this book, John’s vision is that Jews and Christians together worship God. The new Jerusalem has twelve gates—four on each side, “and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites;” (21:12) And it has twelve foundations, “and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (21:14). We presume that Judas’s name is not among the twelve.

The new Jerusalem is quite big: a cube 1500 miles on a side. What’s really intriguing is John’s lapidary catalog, which includes jasper, transparent gold, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst, and pearls.

Logically enough, this Jerusalem has no temple, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (21:22) The sun and moon are not required since the city is lit by God’s glory and “its lamp is the Lamb.” (21:23) Finally,  its inhabitants are the faithful (the wicked having been earlier tossed into the sea of fire), and “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (21:27)

As if this weren’t enough, John goes on to describe the river of life, “bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” (22:1, 2) lined by twelve fruit trees, whose leaves “are for the healing of the nations.” (22:3) 

John’s lengthy description ends with the famous words, “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (22:5) Which I have to admit is a pretty great promise. Darkness has been banished from the new Jerusalem.

John then reminds his readers of his own bonafides as the angel tells him to write,“These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” (22:6) In other words, John asserts, he’s an eyewitness and he has not made these visions up. One really wants to believe him; the imaginative scope of this book is unlike anything else in the Bible—or in literature as a whole.

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